Sunday, 4 September 2011

House of Fraser or House of Cards?

Well, he's done it now.
Murdo Fraser has pulled out the pin and lobbed a live grenade into the Scottish Conservative leadership race.
His pitch: Vote for me and I'll scrap the party and start a new one, the Tories are simply too toxic to recover in Scotland.
It's daring, all right, but it could also blow up in his face.
Whether it happens or not, Fraser has given ammo to the enemy and embarrassed David Cameron by saying the Conservatives are no longer a national party.
Today, it's Scotland that's an electoral no-go area for them, but where next?

Here's the story from today's Sunday Herald:


Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

THE frontrunner to be the next leader of the Scottish Conservatives has promised to abolish the party and start a completely new one if members elect him later this year.
In a daring pitch to activists fed up with successive failures at the polls, Murdo Fraser says the Scottish Conservative brand has become so unpopular with voters it cannot be revived, and should be scrapped and replaced by a new independent party of the centre-right instead.
Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives for almost six years, will put the radical plan at the heart of his leadership campaign, which is launched tomorrow.
If activists back him, and he replaces Annabel Goldie as leader in November, Fraser would use his win as a mandate to dissolve the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (SCUP).
Tory activists would then be asked to migrate to the successor party “en masse”.
Fraser likens the new party to the Unionist Party which existed in Scotland from 1912 to 1965, before merger with the Tories created the SCUP.
It would support the Tories at Westminster, but be a wholly separate Scottish organisation.
While defending the Union, it would also advocate transferring more powers to Holyrood.
But the idea risks splitting the Scottish Tories and leading to a period of bloody infighting.
Jackson Carlaw, the only other MSP to have entered the leadership race, last week said the Scottish Tories should not separate themselves “from the UK party any more than Scotland should separate from the rest of the UK”.
He could now act as a rallying point for those opposed to Fraser’s ‘year zero’ approach.
Fraser admits his plan will lead to some members walking away, rather than join the new party.
However his supporters insist that after a series of poor elections, activists know the status quo is untenable, and dramatic change is needed if they are to make progress at the ballot box.
“We don’t need a new captain for the Titanic,” said one. “What we need is a new ship.”
The radical plan is understood to have the support of around half the 15 Tory MSPs at Holyrood, including former Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson, Finance spokesman Gavin Brown, Rural Affairs spokesman Alex Johnstone, and Education spokeswoman Liz Smith.
Fraser is also being backed by Scotland’s only Tory MEP, Struan Stevenson.
However as of last week, Fraser had not discussed the plan with Prime Minister David Cameron or David Mundell, the only Scottish Tory MP.
The idea offers huge ammunition to Labour, who could taunt Cameron about the Conservatives ceasing to a national UK party and parts of the country being no-go zones.
The SNP could also claim the end of the Scottish Tories was a sign of a weakening Union, and argue Fraser and colleagues were setting up a new party in anticipation of independence.
Fraser admitted in the wake of last year’s general election that the Tories were so “toxic” they drove voters toward other parties.
Despite reviving in England, the Tories have failed to recover in Scotland since Labour’s landslide election victory of 1997.
Since devolution, their MSPs have gone from 18 to 15, and they have had only one MP since 2001.
At the 2010 general election, the Tory share of the vote went up a neglible 0.9% in Scotland compared to 3.9% in the rest of the UK.
The new party is designed to break with that past and attract new members, money and votes.
Its key features would be a distinct Scottish identity, a core belief in passing power down to the people, and new faces at the top.

In his speech tomorrow, Fraser will say: “If I am elected as leader of the party, I will turn it into a new and stronger party for Scotland.
“A new party. A winning party with new supporters from all walks of life. A new belief in devolution. A new approach to policy-making.
A new name. But, most importantly, a new positive message about the benefits of staying in and strengthening our United Kingdom.”
Fraser argues a comparable political model already exists in Germany, where Bavaria’s Christian Social Union co-operates with the Christian Democractic Union at a federal level.
Under his plan, next May’s council elections would be the last contested by the SCUP.
There would then be a special conference to vote to dissolve the party and create a new one.
In practice, the change would need the blessing of the UK Conservatives, as they would need to agree not to field rival candidates in Scotland.
Fraser has not suggested a name for the new party, but says it could include the word Conservative, if the UK party gave permission.
Fraser, 46 tomorrow, is the leading contender in the Tory leadership race, and has been an MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife since 2001.
Carlaw, 52, a list MSP for the West of Scotland since 2007, launched his campaign on Friday with a promise to strengthen the Union, but could not produce a single MSP backer.
Ruth Davidson, 32, a former BBC reporter who was elected a Glasgow list MSP just four months ago, is expected to enter the race later this week.
She is the choice of Goldie and Cameron.
A Labour spokesman said: “This is a brutal admission that the Tories are still a toxic brand in Scotland.
“People haven’t forgotten what they did the last time - and they’re furious with what they are doing now. What Murdo Fraser doesn’t seem to get is that it is his policies that alienate people, not his party’s internal workings.”
Graeme Dey, SNP MSP for Angus South, said if Fraser was so keen on independence for his party, he should back it for the country as well.
“The problem for him and the Tories is not just the damage Tory governments did to Scotland in the past but the economic harm they are doing now. As long as the Tories continue with plans to charge Scottish students fees, re-instate prescription charges and privatise our public services they will struggle to win any more support in Scotland.”

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